1 Goltibei

An Essay On Woman John Wilkes

John Wilkes has been the subject of nearly a dozen biographies, some scholarly, others intended for a wide readership. This one by Professor Cash falls into the latter category, as the author candidly states. 'I have written this book for a general audience of well-read intelligent people' (p. 395): but he does supply copious endnote references for the benefit of scholars. Cash is not an historian, but an American specialist in eighteenth-century English literature. His book is a product of his retirement. It has been 15 years in the making, and his age at publication is 83. The research has been assiduous and wide-ranging. In addition to his perusal of all the Wilkes manuscripts and printed records Cash has visited several locations associated with Wilkes. On his own terms he has been largely successful, producing the biggest biography to date, informed and readable, with abundant detail on the life and career of Wilkes, that rascal and radical. It was the blatancy of his sex life that gave Wilkes his notoriety, for, boasting he had no small vices, he did not indulge in such pursuits of his time as gambling, excessive drinking, and gluttony. His political fame arose from his mostly successful championship of 'liberty', notably that of parliamentary electors, and more generally that of the individual against state power. All this is conveyed in a chatty writing-style, with Wilkes often referred to familiarly as 'Jack'. The political terminology, indeed, is rather too colloquial and modernized: the contrast of 'right' and 'left' does not fit easily into the Georgian scene. And the last 15 years, which saw a late flowering ofWilkes as a classical scholar, are passed over quickly. Cash, too, can be perverse, as in claiming that John Wilkes was probably born on 17 October 1726 (p. 7), exactly a year after the date now accepted. Yet his younger brother Heaton [End Page 418] was born on 9 February 1727, and John, at the time of his marriage on 23 May 1747, had attained the legal age of majority, 21. Nevertheless, there has been no biography on this scale since the 1917 one by Horace Bleackley, and as a very full account of John Wilkes, with much new detail, it replaces that book as the best general life.

But historians will not be happy with this book. It is unfortunate that neither the author nor his publisher saw fit to have the text vetted by a historian, for it contains a myriad of triling errors of fact and misconceptions about the British political and social system. A duke is not the same as an earl (p. 33); the Elder Pitt was not wealthy (pp. 38-9); Lord North was not 'a little man', nor was he called George (p. 146); Lord Egremont may have been a chief persecutor of Wilkes, but he was not a Scot (p. 103); and so on. Cash is often careless about chronology, misdating when men held office or acquired titles. His summaries of political events tend to be confused and inaccurate. More disturbing than this propensity to error is the political interpretation of the period. Although Cash occasionally cites the work of Sir Lewis Namier he has failed to grasp the overthrow of whig historiography. He follows 'the great historian George Otto Trevelyan' in asserting that George III's political aim was to establish 'a personal government', an attempt foiled by the failure of the American War (pp. 57, 369). Fortunately he does not apply this interpretation in detail, but here is his summary of the 1774 general election: 'George III kept his control over Parliament in this election. . . In the rural areas and small boroughs the radical opposition to the war did not go down well, and the people voted overwhelmingly for the court candidates' (p. 310). A...

An Essay on Woman

by Thomas Potter and possibly John Wilkes (written about 1755) is an obscene parody on Alexander Pope's "Essay on Man". It is famous as it was used to expell John Wilkes from Parliament. It has been described as bawdy, pornographic and containing "the most atrocious Blasphemies".

"An Essay on Woman" consists of 94 lines, divided into an invocation and three divisions. Much of it involves placing graphic erotic/sexual images in alternate lines of Pope's "Essay on Man"

Example 1
Compare the start of Pope's "Essay on Man", EPISTLE I (II. 1-8):

Awake, my St John! Leave all meaner things
To low ambition, and the pride of Kings.
Let us (since Life can little more supply
Than just to look about us and to die)
Expatiate free o'er all this scene of Man;
A mighty maze! But not without a plan;
A Wild, where weeds and flow'rs promiscuous shoot,
Or Garden, tempting with forbidden fruit.

to the relatively crude start of the Potter (Wilkes) "Essay on Woman" (II. 1-8):
Awake, my Fanny! Leave all meaner things;
This morn shall prove what rapture swiving brings!
Let us (since life can little more supply
Than just a few good fucks, and then we die)
Expatiate free o'er that loved scene of man,
A mighty maze, for mighty pricks to scan;
A wild, where Paphian Thorns promiscuous shoot,
Where flowers the Monthly Rose, but yields no Fruit.

Example 2
Further comepare Pope (EPISTLE I, III 9-14):

O blindness to the future! kindly given,
That each may fill the circle marked by Heaven:
Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,
A hero perish, or a sparrow fall,
Atoms or systems into ruin hurled,
And now a bubble burst, and now a world

with Thomas Potter's -
O blindness to the future! kindly given,
That each may enjoy what fucks are marked in Heaven:
Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,
The man just mounting, and the virgin's fall,
Pricks, cunt, and ballocks in convulsions hurled,
And now a hymen burst, and now a world

Example 3
Some sections could be classed as a little more artistic, perhaps eroticism instead of simple crudity, such as...

The gasp divine, th'emphatic, thrilling squeeze,
The throbbing panting breasts and trembling knees,
The tickling motion, the enlivening flow,
The raturous shiver and dissolving, oh!

But then it deteriorates into what was seen as "Blasphemy" which I will not reproduce here [but may be found elsewhere].

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